Jefferson West eliminates baseball team in second game
After the Chieftains lost to Jefferson West, 10-4, in the second round of the regional baseball tournament to end their season with a 6-16 record, first-year baseball coach John Lee reflected on his rookie season.
His inaugural season into the baseball coaching ranks was wrought from the very beginning with roadblocks ranging from injuries, to personal emergencies to acts of God.
The first obstacle he and the team faced was the loss of number-one and number-two pitchers Mark Walters and Ryan Lowe to nearly identical injuries to their throwing hands.
Lowe pitched the team's first game of the season, against Jeff West. Walters was out before the season even started.
"I had really high hopes for Ryan Lowe," Lee said. "He gave us seven strong inning on the mound (against Jeff West) and went 2-4 from the plate."
But then he broke his hand. Out for the season.
Add to those pitching blows an inexperienced, young line-up, and it's no surprise that the team committed 73 errors in its first 11 games.
But Lee said, despite the loss of its top two pitchers, and despite all the team's youth and inexperience, the team could have been better earlier if it hadn't have been for all the rain.
An abnormally wet early spring kept the team off the field and in the gym.
"We were inside a lot," he said. "Some of the kinds of things we were doing (wrong) could have been corrected if we could have gotten outside."
The last thing that effected Lee's first month or so as coach was much more important than some game: his children.
On March 13, right when the season was starting, Lee became the proud father of twin boys Gavin and Garrett, and took a few days off.
Two weeks later, the two boys were re-admitted to the hospital when they had trouble breathing because of an infant malady called reflux. The boys were treated, released and are now in good health, but the episode forced Lee to take five days off to help care for his family.
All these things added up to a slow start. The team started 1-10.
But then the team got over the hump. Pitchers kept developing and started winning. Players were getting on base and stealing more bases. Numbers in the error column shrank. All of a sudden, Tonganoxie was nobody's little brother.
"Then we won four of six games," Lee said. "Then we lost two in a row to a great Piper club. But we played well."
The team then went 1-1 to finish the regular season 5-15 before going 1-1 in post-season play.
But despite all the losses, trials and tribulations the season brought, Lee said, "I wouldn't do any of it different if I could," he said.